FLORENCE — As many as 80,000 people within Pinal County, more than the populations of Casa Grande or Maricopa, could have been left out of the latest census results released earlier this summer, according to analysis by county officials.
That startling figure was brought up by Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer, who presented during a discussion of the potential undercount at the latest Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday.
“Our concern is we believe the census did not do Pinal County a solid,” Volkmer said. “We had communities in the midst of a boom that showed a decrease in population. Houses are going up left and right. Anyone who has seen development here knows that belies a commonsense approach.”
Volkmer noted that even in the city of Maricopa, which saw a population increase, the census numbers were lower than estimates.
Despite the possibility of missing up to 20% of the county’s population, Volkmer was candid in his appraisal of what would be a long and costly battle to adjust the numbers. County officials including Volkmer had met with a census consultant who advised them on potential steps to seek redress.
“His assessment was not good for us,” Volkmer said. “The county will essentially have to get the federal government to say, ‘My bad, we screwed up.’”
Paradoxically, the census consultant indicated showing a unified front between municipalities or other counties could actually hurt their case, as it could open the door to nearly any community in the country challenging census results.
Volkmer also said “the ship has sailed” on getting a new apportionment or adding a 10th congressional district within Arizona.
The key, Volkmer claimed, is to show that there were unique situations at the neighborhood or subdivision level.
“That’s how we ‘win’,” Volkmer said.
Although there’s still some uncertainty around specific reasons for the anomalous results, there is a general consensus that lower socioeconomic areas, predominantly non-English speaking, were undercounted in rural Arizona areas, including Pinal County.
The supervisors laughed when Volkmer said the census numbers showed a 10% decrease in undocumented residents coming to Arizona.
Volkmer noted that the census deployed five enumerators from Tucson instead of the expected 12.
Last month, one of the enumerators described a situation to PinalCentral in which transient or semi-permanent residents were counted in a haphazard or superficial manner.
The Pinal board informally agreed to hold another meeting on the census in December, which is when they could possibly act to take part in the Count Question Resolution program. At that point, after more information has been collected, local city or county officials could determine whether challenging the census results is worth the cost. While legal efforts to challenge the census could be expensive, local population numbers can determine funding for needs like schools or infrastructure.
Eloy Mayor Micah Powell spoke briefly before the board, supporting efforts to get an adjusted count.
“There is loss of revenue at stake,” Powell said. “Eloy could lose a million dollars in funding. We feel we did a great job campaigning for the census. So when we got the final numbers — we lost three thousand residents — it was troubling for us.”
The CQR process was bumped back to Jan. 1 of 2022, after which it will be open for 18 months. The Census Bureau is planning to release block-level data to the public before the end of the year.
CASA GRANDE -- Connie Lenius loves Monday mornings. It’s the day she joins others in her community’s pool and twists, turns and moves to the sounds of Chubby Checker and a variety of songs for her weekly exercise class.
“My favorite part of the class is when we dance to ‘The Twist,’” she said. “It gets me out of my casa cocoon — I very rarely leave home — and this exercise class gets me moving and socializing.”
For years, Lenius has been taking part in regular, Healthy Steps exercise classes led by Gwen Traylor at her senior living apartment complex, Cypress Point.
Healthy Steps with the Lebed Method is a therapeutic dance-based exercise class that aims to help the elderly and cancer patients build strength and recover from the impacts of medical complications and treatments.
In a Healthy Steps class, each exercise has modifications. Participants may sit or stand while performing each exercise, depending on their comfort level.
Those who can’t lift their arms or legs completely also have modified movements.
“These exercises have improved my circulation and have been good for me,” Lenius said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and continuing threat of disease has had an impact on the class for Lenius and her fellow residents at Cypress Point.
Before the pandemic, the class met in the complex’s community room for once-a-week sessions. Once the pandemic began, residents remained in their apartments but worked out together via conference calls.
The class eventually returned to meeting weekly in the community room, but now, with variant strains a concern, the exercise class has moved outside with some residents dancing and exercising in the pool and others seated in a chair or standing in the shade.
Traylor finds a spot where those in the pool and those in the shade can see her as she leads the class through various moves.
Music is a big part of the class and each song is designed to energize or relax participants.
“We have a lot of fun. We laugh and talk and work on feeling good,” Traylor said.
Through gentle movements, positive reinforcement and a fun atmosphere, class attendees feel empowered and improve the flow to the lymphatic system, which is often impacted by surgery.
No muscle is neglected. Even the eyelids get exercise.
Traylor understands the difficulty of recovering from cancer. She’s survived two bouts of breast cancer.
She discovered Healthy Steps with the Lebed Method when she was recovering from surgery several years ago. The program got her moving and laughing again, she said.
“It helped me so much,” she said.
Several years ago, she became certified as an instructor for the Healthy Steps with the Lebed Method and began teaching, hoping to help others on their own road to post-cancer recovery.
Although it’s designed for cancer patients, Healthy Steps with the Lebed Method is also good for other illnesses and chronic conditions as well as for those looking for a fun, no-pressure exercise that burns calories.
Adapting the Cypress Point class so that residents could still exercise amid concerns of COVID made sense as some residents live alone and run the risk of feeling lonely and isolated, said Complex Manager Tammy Herrera.
“It’s so important for them to exercise,” Herrera said. “We have residents who have had falls or illnesses and some haven’t been as social since COVID began. This class has been good for their mind, body and soul.”
Suzanne Abner attends the class each week to help her improve circulation. Recovering from cancer treatments, she said the music and series of movements help her feel less fatigued and energized.
For Alice Ewan, the best part of the class is the relaxing, tai chi-like movements at the end of the session.
Traylor often plays her own song, “We Are Connected,” which she wrote and recorded herself, as the class moves through its cool-down segment.
“At the end of the class we send light and love to others,” Ewan said. “It’s so relaxing and meditative.”
CASA GRANDE — Olga Cathemer has lived through two world wars, two worldwide pandemics, the Great Recession and dozens of other historic events.
On Sept. 28, Cathemer, a lifelong Arizona resident and former Florence school teacher, will turn 105. She’ll celebrate the day with her close family and friends at the Garnet senior living facility in Casa Grande, where she lives.
She was born in Chandler in 1916 and later baptized in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Tempe.
Growing up in Chandler, the only sister to seven brothers, she said music was always a big part of her life.
“I could not have grown up complete without music in my life,” she said. “My grandparents had an old organ that we had to pump with our feet in order to make it work. With my grandfather’s help, I learned my way around the keys of the organ, how to chord, read music, fiddle with the violin and developed a fair singing voice.”
When she was in high school, Cathemer was a featured singer on a morning radio show at a station in Phoenix, singing each morning for half an hour.
Music and singing continued to play a major role in her life into adulthood.
“For many years, I was the choir director at my church in Florence,” she said. “My love and need of music has continued throughout my life.”
She was a longtime member of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Florence.
Cathemer enjoys crocheting, knitting, sewing and embroidering. In high school, a teacher showed her how to sew and for much of her adult life, she made her own clothing.
“I graduated from high school when I was 18 and was immediately whisked off to Phoenix by the director of the federal National Youth Administration along with my home economics and business teachers to whom I served as a secretary,” she said.
A few years later, in 1937, she married her husband, Tom, and moved to Florence. The couple had four children: Thomas Robert II; John and Gerald, twin boys; and Olga Marie, all deceased.
She was active in the community, joining the Florence Woman’s Club, the Junior Club and the Federation Club, serving for a time as secretary and later vice president.
“I look back on this time as a most enjoyable experience in my life,” Cathemer said.
She worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for Clemans Cattle Company and Clemans Motors.
In 1956, Cathemer became a widow. With a son and a daughter still living at home, she took a job in the Pinal County Supervisors office while also attending Arizona State University.
“I was secretary for two different supervisors,” she said. “Now that was a most interesting job. Quite an eye-opener.”
In 1964, Cathemer graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in education and became a remedial reading specialist. She earned a master’s degree a few years later and spent a career teaching in Florence.
“The 19 years I spent in the teaching field was certainly the most challenging in all of my work experience,” she said.
Cathemer lived alone for decades. A friend told PinalCentral that Cathemer mowed her own lawn and drove a car until last year when she moved into The Garnet of Casa Grande.
The staff and residents at the Garnet are like family, Cathemer said. She likes that she can participate in activities and events whenever “the whim might present itself,” she said.
Cathemer, who still enjoys singing in a church choir, will celebrate her 105th birthday surrounded by close friends and family.
Although her husband and four children have died, she has three grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren.
“In almost 105 years of living, there have been some of the most pleasant aspects of living and some sad ones too,” she said.
CASA GRANDE — New maps released by the Independent Redistricting Commission show drastic changes to legislative and congressional boundaries within Pinal County, but all indications are it is too soon in the process to draw major conclusions.
“Grid maps are the starting point,” said Andrea Varela, community outreach coordinator with Rural Arizona Engagement. “They are made to ‘clean the slate’ for the state. Obviously we want to advocate for our communities to stay together, and we’ll see how the independent commission will take input from meetings and hearings and move from grid maps to draft maps.”
The maps released Tuesday show Pinal County for the most part as its own congressional district, while legislative lines unite the Eloy area but carve up the cities of Casa Grande and Maricopa.
Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland said that these maps are “unacceptable” as drawn but also said that it is early and he would spend time with other city officials to figure out how they would move forward.
Maricopa Mayor Christian Price drew a more optimistic tone, expressing hope that the cities of Maricopa and Casa Grande would ultimately be well represented in the final maps.
“We’re the two largest cities in the county,” Price said. “We have similar needs and interests and if we could have unified representation that’d be great.”
Price said he and city staff had been keeping a close eye on IRC meetings and Price had initially campaigned for the commission to include hearings in Pinal County during their first “listening tour.” Price also said he encouraged residents to take part in the process, including drafting and submitting their own map proposals.
During a meeting on Tuesday, IRC Chairwoman Erika Neuberg was careful to point out that the maps are not final in any sense. The meeting also included a discussion about changing demographics and where the state has high concentrations of Hispanic and Native American populations.
State demographer Jim Chang said that over the past decade, the increase in Arizona’s Hispanic and Latino populations appeared surprisingly low, but while some have blamed that on a census undercount, Chang suggested a lower birth rate or less international migration as the reason for changes.
The IRC website confirms that the first maps only consider two of the eventual six criteria that will define the new districts. The most significant change or point of contention may be with how well the new districts include “respect for communities of interest,” which Varela said is a major concern based on lack of representation in the initial public hearings.
“Their new schedule does not include communities of color,” Varela said. “Two of them are in Scottsdale, which doesn’t make sense to us. We aren’t pleased, but we’ll continue working to ensure the commission is adhering to keeping communities together to adjust lines accordingly.”
Varela said responses to the maps themselves would be more concrete as the review period nears.
The next round of public meeting sessions starts on Sept. 21. The only upcoming meeting in Pinal County will take place on Thursday, Sept. 23, at the Radisson Hotel in Casa Grande, at noon.
“We welcome the involvement and voices of all interested individuals and groups to become part of this critical process,” Neuberg said.